The following ranks the 10 best GM’s in baseball. The list covers both leagues, and while some of the GM’s operated under different titles from time-to-time, all were responsible for making their franchise’s baseball-related decisions.
1. Theo Epstein (Boston Red Sox, ’02-’05, ’06-present)— An Ivy League graduate and Sabermetrics enthusiast, Epstein’s strength is being able to combine veterans and young talent to build a franchise which competes every season. Acquiring David Ortiz from Minnesota was one of the great steals in baseball history. Last season’s off-season strategy (Smoltz, Penny, Baldelli, etc) was less impressive, but on the whole, his track record has been awesome. Not yet 40, Epstein is arguably the most valuable member of the Red Sox franchise (including players).
2. Dave Dombrowski (Expos ’89-91, Marlins ’93-’01, Tigers ’02-present)—I would argue Dombrowski has the best track record of any GM in baseall. His career began running the Montreal Expos, and through development of young players such as Delino Deshields, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, and Moises Alou, he was responsible for building one of the only competitive teams Montreal ever produced. He departed for Florida shortly before Montreal started winning, but his time in South Florida was also successful. His 1997 World Series was particularly impressive considering he won by aggressively acquiring the “mercenary champions” a plethora of veterans who won a title in one season (a feat often-tried, rarely achieved). He then orchestrated the team’s rebuilding effort, which ultimately led to another World Series. He left Florida in ’02 for a terrible Detroit franchise where he oversaw another aggressive rebuilding effort, leading them to the ’05 World Series. He was perhaps too aggressive in recent years, trying to emulate the strategy that won the World Series in Florida in 1997. But he has backtracked from the strategy to ensure the Tigers will be solid over the long-term.
3. Walt Jocketty (Cardinals, 94-’07, Reds, ’08-present)—Jocketty is another executive with an impressive track record. He ran Oakland’s scouting department during the 1980’s, and along with Sandy Alderson, was responsible for building the powerful Oakland teams of the late 1980’s. Upon taking over in St. Louis, he convinced many of the people responsible for Oakland’s success to join him, most notably Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. The past 15 years have been awesome for St. Louis. As an Astros fan, nothing made me happier than hearing the Cardinals lost Jocketty, even though it’s hard to imagine why they fired him. It’s too early to tell how Jocketty will do in Cincinnati, but they are one of the few losing franchises who seem to have a clear picture of where they will be in 2-3 years.
4. Billy Beane (Athletics, 1998-present)—the most famous follower of Sabermatrics and the protagonist of “Moneyball,” Beane was extremely successful in the early-2000’s. His ability to recognize talent (young and old) through statistics led to an incredibly successful run. Beane’s recent results have been less impressive, but part of his genius is recognizing changes in the game. “Moneyball” is an evolving strategy, and the current Athletics team follows different philosophies than those espoused in the book. For example, unlike the book, the current team focuses on team speed and young pitching. The next few seasons will tell a great deal about Beane’s philosophies, but there is a strong chance he will make a solid run over the next few years.
5. Andrew Friedman (Rays ’05-present)—a former investment banker, Friedman made slight changes to the Rays’ strategy which showed huge results. His smartest decision was bringing in Gerry Hunsicker to help run the franchise. The team continued stockpiling young players, and several adjustments which allowed the team to move in the right direction. For example, the team parted with Young/Dukes and acquired Carlos Pena. His recent moves have been more questionable (i.e., the last two drafts, Edwin Jackson trade), but on the whole, Friedman has done an excellent job.
6. Larry Beinfest (Marlins ’02-president)—like Dombrowski, Beinfest came to Florida via Montreal. No GM has been more successfull with less resources. His decision to replace Jeff Torberg with Jack McKeon was arguably the deciding factor in the Marlins’ ’03 World Series. In addition, he made one of the best selections in Rule 5 draft history by selecting then-unknown Second Baseman Dan Uggla. When the league complains your competitive franchise is not spending enough, you know the GM is doing something right.
7. Jack Zduriencik (Mariners ’08-present)— Zduriencik has become extremely popular in his first year as GM. I am less enthusiastic than most, and wonder whether giving up on several of his former prospects (i.e., Brandon Morrow) will be a mistake. Nevertheless, Zduriencik appears to know his stuff. He ran the Brewers’ Scouting Department from ’99-’06, and no team drafted better during that time.
8. Jon Daniels (Rangers, ‘2005-present)—Daniels’ first two seasons with the Rangers were filled with questionable decisions, such as trading Chris Young/Adam Eaton and Alfonsio Soriano/Brad Wilkerson. But things began turning around after he picked up an incredible amount of talent for Mark Teixeira. Since then, Daniels managed to build the best farm system in baseball, and put Texas in a great position to be successful over the next 5-6 seasons.
9. Andy McPhail (Twins, ’85-94, Cubs ’94-06, Orioles ’07-present)—MacPhail is another executive with long-term success. He began his career helping the Minnesota Twins win two World Series, and then moved to Chicago. His tenure in Chicago was successful, but he was never able to win a title. In Baltimore, he seems to have a good strategy in place, assembling a young corps of players who will form a strong franchise over the long haul.
10 (tie). Brian Cashman (’98-present)— Cashman is the Ulysses S. Grant of baseball…it’s hard to evaluate the success of someone with so many resources. Despite several bad decisions, Cashman has consistently made the playoffs, brought in the game’s best players, and won several titles. The Yankees should find themselves at a crossroads in the next few seasons, as they will be forced to transition their team from the core of players (Jeter, Posada, Pettite, Rivera) who have been a major part of their team.
10 (tie). Dayton Moore (Royals, ’06-present)—Moore is a questionable pick considering no GM’s track record has been worse. Perhaps I am stubborn because I thought he was an awesome hire in ’06, but I think Moore knows what he’s doing. Moore learned under John Schuerholtz, who built the Braves’ dynasty using a similar philosophy. Moore is still attempting to find a core of young players who can win and is investing heavily in young talent. Some of his investments –most notably, Alex Gordon—have been failures thus far. Moore’s five year extension was met with criticism, but I think the strategy will eventually begin paying off if the team remains patient. However, it’s possible his successor will look like the genius.